All her life, Kim Wasson ('09) has been a Star Wars fan. As a child, she went to Disneyland and immediately sought out R2D2 and C3PO. In high school, she sewed a Darth Vader costume to wear at a midnight screening of a prequel. And this year for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she watched her name scroll in the credits for her work on the movie.
A production coordinator for Industrial Light and Magic, the George Lucas-founded company, Wasson helps make the visual effects for many of today's top movies. Her credits include action-packed films such as Transformers 3, Battleship, Tomorrowland, Lucy, The Lone Ranger and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.
But The Force Awakens -- the highest-grossing movie of all time in North America, which was nominated for five Oscars, including visual effects -- is thus far the pinnacle of her career.
"I take great ownership in some of the things I've helped contribute to," she says, adding there is a huge range in the work her team does to make effects believable.
"Anything you see that can't be shot on camera is done in visual effects, from creating and animating the Millennium Falcon flying through space to replacing a green screen shot on location with footage of a different environment."
Wasson wanted to work in the movies since Varsity Blues was shot in her hometown of Georgetown when she was in the fourth grade. In high school, she filmed the football team practices and games.
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"I always wanted to be behind the camera and making movies," she says.
She enrolled at UNT as a radio, television and film major in what is now the Department of Media Arts. She volunteered as a cameraperson for UNT's student-run television station NTTV, and she especially liked her film theory classes.
After graduation, Wasson moved to California, where her father lives, so she could pursue jobs in the movie industry. She landed an internship at Lucasfilm Animation, where she worked on Clone Wars, the animated version of Star Wars.
She learned the technology used for visual effects and the roles of the crew.
"I was overwhelmed at first -- just to think you're touching something that so many people watch and enjoy," she says. "It's surreal to know you're a small part of that."
From that internship, she made contacts at Industrial Light and Magic and was offered a position there six months later.
Wasson's job is to oversee the visual effects shots in the pipeline, the workflow in which every single image is composed of different elements. The process can range from one artist making a few tweaks in a few days to multiple artists, all with a different role, working on various elements of a shot for months. For The Force Awakens, 2,100 different shots were made.
"The shots go by so quickly in the movie, people may not realize how much work goes into them," she says.
Wasson first saw the finished film at the Alamo DraftHouse in Austin when she came home for the holidays in December. The hardcore fans dressed as their favorite characters, and she enjoyed her special insights into the movie.
"Watching a film is like seeing all your memories from the past year," she says. "Everything about it feels so special. It's cool when people can love their job."